ATTRACTING & RETAINING TEACHERS
We continue to be concerned about the lack of support for teachers/retaining quality teachers. We’re seeing how decreased and frozen funding affects them. Teachers are seeing the Kansas legislature write new laws, reducing teachers’ rights and unprofessional changes to programs such as the Advanced Placement programs in high schools. The teachers also hear disrespectful comments from Blue Valley area legislators.
Consider these situations:
Block Grant funding froze previously-scheduled pay raises. Yearly increases to insurance may also shift to teachers. We saw that happen in 2014-15, when Olathe school district teachers saw a 1.65% salary bump, but they lost dental insurance and the cost of their health insurance doubled. The starting salary for a Blue Valley School district teacher at Step 5 increased only 4.25% from the 2008-2009 schedule. Meanwhile, inflation over that same timeframe was 10.5%. Teachers are taking on more classes, larger class sizes, fewer teachers aides and less funded classroom supplies. For example, a teacher in SMSD purchased folders, dividers and binders with personal funds when she taught organizational skills to her special education students.
Legislative battles with teacher unions. Some members of the Kansas legislature are attempting to weaken the teacher union. This will help some of them move forward with their plans to privatize schools. For others, it means making teachers more vulnerable to firing. In 2014, House Bill 2506 was a budget bill, but had many educational riders on it. When this bill was signed into law, teachers lost the right to due process and it eliminated the teacher licensure requirement. Senate Bill 176 would limit negotiations under the professional negotiations act. Negotiations between a local board of education and a professional employee’s organization would be limited to terms and conditions (the minimum amount of salaries and wages) of professional service.
Legal obstacles to teachers. This legislative session, we continue to see attacks on teachers. Senate Bill 56 would allow prosecution of teachers for “offensive material” for district-provided curriculum/material. Local districts can and should handle this. Legislators in Topeka with no professional teaching experience presented a bill, HB 2292, to throw out the existing K-12 curriculum standards and eliminate Advanced Placement (AP) classes and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. This would have cost the state millions of dollars, the loss of millions of federal dollars, and sent the teachers scrambling to learn to teach new curriculum. Despite sitting in hours of testimony for and against this bill, one member of the Education Committee still believed that Sex Education was part of Common Core Standards. This underscores the lack of expertise of people in the legislature trying to establish what is best for our kids—and at a reckless cost they are willing to go to to support outside influencers.
General disrespectful talk toward educators and about school districts.
A mass exodus has not been noted, but we’ve seen indication of dissatisfaction. Consider that the Kansas Teaching Jobs website saw annual applications for employment fall 17% between 2012 and 2014. And we’ve seen an 8% increase teachers leaving the profession altogether. Although anecdotal in nature, one couple of teaching professionals, Dave Kissack and his wife, left Kansas for teaching jobs in Iowa, due to concern over finances and the cost of insurance as well as the grim outlook for Kansas continued support of schools. Eventually, there is going to be long-term impacts to the pool of teachers. To address the dearth of teachers in western Kansas, the legislature has been to work. Two bills introduced in the House of Representatives in February 2016, HB 2653 and HB 2656, would revise the rules for working after retirement to allow more time to work. Under the existing rules about how much KPERS retirees are allowed to work, western Kansas school districts have a hard time filling some teaching positions.